As with most things in life, there are no silver bullets that will allow you to create an effective fundraising program out of thin air. That being said, there ARE some levers that you can play with to try and boost your donation volume quickly…that is, if you already have some online donations flowing through your website. Here are three strategies you can test out to increase donations online:
1. Experiment with Social Cues
It may be trite to say at this point, but we truly are “social animals.” Like it or not, we instinctually pay attention to, and respond to, the behavior of other people as we decide how to act. This is true in pretty much every context—including the context of charitable giving.
There’s some interesting research that highlights how donors respond to social cues during the giving process. The experiment we’re referencing, Field Experiments in Public Radio by Rachel Croson & Jen Shang, was conducted for a public radio station’s telemarketing appeal.  The researchers varied the call script slightly to test out whether or not mentioning the “last supporter’s” gift level would affect the person on the phone’s donation decision. Supporters were told that the last person on the phone contributed at one of three different levels (the median gift size, the 80th percentile of gift size, or the 95th percentile of size). The results were interesting, if not altogether unexpected.
As it turned out, people were in fact influenced by the social information they received from the telemarketer. Interestingly, the amount that they were influenced depended upon how much the telemarketer indicated that the last person on the phone had given. Saying that the previous person had donated at the median level brought only a modest increase in the average gift size. Saying that the previous person had donated at the 80th percentile brought a substantial increase in average gift size, and saying that the previous person gave at the 95th percentile brought even larger gains. If you’re thinking well why not just tell the person on the phone that the last person gave $1,000 or $10,000…don’t jump too far too fast! It turns out that when gifts ranging beyond the 95th percentile of gift size were mentioned, the average gift size started going down again. Interesting stuff.
So what does all this mean for increasing donations online? Well, there’s not one straightforward conclusion to draw, but it does suggest that experimenting with social cues on your donation form may be worth your time. For example let’s say the 95th percentile for gifts received through your website’s donation form is $275, you might experiment with a testimonial quote like this:
“I decided to give $275 last year, that’s less than one of my student loan payments. The thing is, I know that even that amount of money will transform lives. It’s the best decision I’ve made in a long time”
Of course there’s no guarantee that what worked for a public radio station in a telemarketing appeal will work for your online donations, but it seems promising. It’s certainly worth testing out. Even just generally including a testimonial quote on your donation page might help provide more “social proof” and improve conversions.
2. Brand Your Donation Form
A while back we wrote a whole article on this point, but suffice it to say that it pays to have a branded donation form. If you spend any appreciable amount of time browsing nonprofit websites you will invariably come across a range of different generic donation forms. These forms are branded to fit the underlying merchant service and don’t look like the rest of the nonprofit’s website. The most ubiquitous example is the pale blue and white PayPal checkout form.
While these generic forms are perfectly functional (they do of course allow you to accept donations!), they aren’t as efficient as branded donation forms. Data from Network for Good shows that branded donation forms receive average gifts that are 38% larger than the average gifts made through generic pages. Not only that, but people who contribute through a branded donation checkout page are 66% more likely to come back and make another gift.  It literally pays to have a branded donation form. If you don’t have one yet, get one. It’s the ultimate quick win.
3. Increase Traffic to Your Donation Page
This one is perhaps a bit less intuitive than the other suggestions, but it works nonetheless. At the end of the day there are two fundamental ways to increase donations coming in through your website. You can increase the efficiency of the checkout page itself (e.g. boost conversion rates or increase average gift size) OR you can increase the volume of traffic to your donation checkout page. Of course, it’s best to do both, but let’s focus on the second strategy for a moment.
Assuming you do nothing to your donation page, the percentage of people visiting that page that wind up completing a gift will remain the same. Accordingly, if you increase the number of people that visit your donation form, you will increase donations. In order to build more traffic to your checkout page there are two levers you can pull on. You can focus on getting more website visitors to click on the donate button (the link to your donation form) OR you can try to increase the overall traffic to your website.
When it comes to optimizing for clicks, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you should make your donation button a standard element of your website’s layout. In other words, while it’s nice to have the donate button appear prominently “above the fold” on your home page, you should carry that over to the other pages on your site. Your website visitors should always be one simple click away from hitting your donation page. Second, you should adopt an empirical approach and do some testing. Use A/B testing software (it’s not that expensive!) to find the optimal position, color, and text for your donate button. These are all things you can easily test to see if you can improve the click-through rate to your donation page.
On the other side of the equation (increasing traffic site-wide) there’s one tried and true strategy that has proven to increase website traffic over time—blogging. By creating a nonprofit blog, you will generate great content that you can share through your existing social media channels (bringing people back to your website) AND you will gradually grow your traffic from search engines. By hitting both prongs—increasing clicks to your donation page and increasing traffic to your site—you will soon be on your way to increasing your online donations!
Donors Give 80% Larger Gifts in December
 Croson & Shang (2011). Social Influences in Giving. In Olivola C., & Oppenheimer D. (Eds.), The Science of Giving: Experimental Approaches to the Study of Charity. New York, USA, Taylor and Francis Group LLC.
 The Online Giving Study, p. 9, by Network for Good, True Sense Marketing, and sponsored by AOL.
Image Credit: Flickr User Au Kirk